By Elizabeth Lucchesi
Homeowners today should heed the wise words of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Many Alexandria homes, especially those in Old Town, were built more than a century ago during the Federalist Era when the United States was just finding its footing as a nation.
Most of these century-old structures have aged like a fine wine and are still standing today. In fact, many are as good as new and demand a premium buying price. You can credit their sound construction, but more importantly, the regular maintenance that has kept these homes alive.
Perhaps the best investment a homeowner can make is to learn the ins-and-outs of home maintenance. Proactive measures, including the regular inspection and updating of a home’s major systems and structure, will likely pay back in buckets.
Below are a few of the most important items, including the most damaging and costly to a homeowner if not properly maintained, and a few DIY improvements, mostly cosmetic, that increase value and curb appeal. Further down, you’ll find a formula for what to do first and last and tips to keep your calendars and maintenance reminders in order.
Leaks cause more financial damage to homes than any of the other elements, including fire. The best approach to prevent water damage? Inspect and maintain plumbing fixtures annually – before leaks begin – starting from the top down.
Gutter maintenance is cheap, easy and a prime prevention of damage. In a short time, clogged gutters can affect the roofing material, fascia, soffits and even the siding. Free flowing gutters can allow for dry basements and crawl spaces. Bi-annual inspections are recommended. While you’re up there, look for nails that may have bumped out and spot-check caulking, too.
Drip, drip, drip
No, not coffee – that’s your hose bibb. Notorious for leaks, hose bibbs can cause water damage inside wall assemblies, basements or crawl spaces. Wetness or mold around the hose bibb is a sure sign of leakage – usually caused by a loose tap or connection.
Winterizing hose bibbs is a must-do in your maintenance program. Before temps drop below 20 degrees, disconnect all hoses from their hose bibbs and drain excess water; turn off valves supplying water to your outdoor faucets; drain residual water from the hoses and leave the faucet handle in an open position to release pressure throughout the winter. You can also place an insulating cover – easily found at hardware stores – over your hose bibbs.
Leave heavy lifting to the pros
Do what you can with the skills and tools you have. When you see the need for professional assistance, reach out to your trusted HVAC techs, plumbers, electricians or painters.
Roof inspection and repairs
A costly but inevitable home improvement is roof replacement. Roofs are exposed to all of the seasonal stresses — rain, snow, ice, wind and heat. Though they may last longer, roofs typically have a 20-year lifespan.
If you are comfortable on a ladder, perform a regular, close-up inspection of your roof. If not, binoculars work, too. Early signs of roof distress include any warping of its shingles. Also look for granules in your gutters – some asphalt granules are ordinary but an abundance of grit in the gutters is a sign your roof life is waning.
A serious indication for roof repair are waves or dips in a roof – these can mean the roof is leaking and could cause rot in the wooden sheathing below. For major maintenance like this, it’s best to bring in the big guns and hire a professional roofer for an expert opinion.
HVAC need help?
Unless you’re an HVAC technician, hire the help of a professional for regular inspection and service of your HVAC system. With proper maintenance in place, you will likely ensure a long service life for your HVAC and demonstrate responsible homeownership to potential buyers when your home is on the market.
Just like anything else, fences need periodic maintenance. Simple fixes include new nails and fastening brackets. Light pressure washing and staining will freshen up fences after winter weather.
Windows, doors and drafts
Put your hand next to the window and door seals. Do you feel cold air coming in? Simple solutions to seal up drafts includes weather stripping and/or caulking. These measures can eliminate upwards of 10 percent of your heating and cooling bills.
Liven up your landscape
Is that chickweed or dandelion? Henbit or bittercress? Assess sunshine exposure and which plants should go where based on their needs. Confused yet? roozensonline.com can help.
Attention to detail
Doors painted in a glossy color look larger and more inviting. Is your doormat worn and weathered or does it offer a warm welcome message? Are your house numbers visible from the street? Is your freedom flag flying high with bright red, white and blue or is it tired and tattered? These things matter and are quick fixes.
How to prioritize projects
Put effort into what seems to pay off best. Find the current age of your house component and determine its remaining life expectancy. Overdue items go to the top of the list. Once you’ve created an immediate focus list, map out the maintenance for one, three and five years out, keeping seasonal conditions in mind when plotting your due dates.
Watch out for expense clusters. This is when your home’s systems and appliances reach their expiration date around the same time. Mapping out maintenance in advance is good protection against multiple costs at once.
Checklists and maintenance records
These documents provide an acceptable record of home maintenance to a prospective buyer — one more tool to protect your home value.
Words of wealth
Be the best steward of your home. Commit to regular home maintenance and keep small problems from becoming big, costly issues. Your efforts will offer plenty in return.
The writer is the founder of the LizLuke Team of Long & Foster Real Estate. She is also a buyer and seller agent.